Covid - A Year On: Pitchfork Ales brewery keeps pints flowing during lockdowns
- Credit: Archant
A brewery has endured a 'challenging but extremely exciting year' since the first coronavirus lockdown was introduced.
Pitchfork Ales, based in Hewish, moved its retail operation online at the end of March 2020 because of the lockdown and the support and demand it received was 'amazing'.
Dave Turner, director of Pitchfork, said: "We opted for a beer drive thru model to allow us to more efficiently serve more people, we had an amount of stock that needed to be sold.
"Since then, because of the support, we've upgraded the website twice, the latest version of which was done with a complete rebrand - as lockdowns continued and tier restrictions killed off trade we invested more and more in moving as much business online as possible, which opened up delivering nationally.
"We launched the world's first virtual beer festival that delivered cask conditioned beer to the door and repeated it again in November, delivering a total of more than 5,000 pints across the whole country and putting on live stream entertainment featuring live music, tutored tastings, beer chat and even comedy."
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While this has been a growing part of the business it has not entirely replaced what Pitchfork did with supplying beers to pubs, so it still needs the licensed trade to reopen to be more successful but it presented the brewery with an opportunity.
Pitchfork is close to launching a Crowdfunder to help it reach the next level of business growth, offering the UK's first nationwide cask conditioned beer subscription service and delivering that using a unique multi-beer box it has developed with its packaging partner.
Dave added: "Cash has been tight, partly down to the level of business but also down to reinvestment, we've been constantly improving what we've been doing.
"But we're here and doing better than many and now with our new business plan, we'll be able to come out of the pandemic with our foot firmly on the accelerator, supplying pubs up and down the country once more and delivering even more freshly tapped beer to beer lovers across the UK."
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In November 2019, Pitchfork opened the Fork n Ale Taproom & Kitchen in Weston town centre. Dave said it's closure 'took it's toll on the team'.
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He added: "Lockdown was bad enough with no opening but the restrictions that came in with the tiers, table service and substantial meal restrictions meant having 100 per cent of the costs of the business as our staff weren't on furlough, yet we could only have 50 per cent of the income maximum.
"In between lockdowns we did manage to celebrate our first anniversary and had a packed pub for the weekend, with zero Covid transmission cases, thankfully, and it was wonderful to see everyone enjoying themselves.
"There's a lot of cost and effort involved in reopening and the madness before Christmas of up and down the tiers meant that we only opened for a week - December should have been one of most amazing months ever but it was taken from us.
"Mentally and physically that impacted the team, and of course since then, we've been closed. Like a lot of town and city centre venues, we don't have any outdoor space, so reopening for us can't happen until May 17.
"There's a lot of love for the Fork n Ale and we're looking forward to welcoming everyone back in, the plan is to reopen on May 17 with our pre-Covid opening days and hours of being open every day, and we can't wait."
Another Weston pub, The Borough Arms, is also planning on reopening in May.
Licensee Simon Blaker said: "It is really a matter of risk versus reward and I believe the restrictions favour risk more than reward.
"Last year has certainly been a test of character and financially not ideal but that being said the financial support the business has received has been a real lifeline.
"I think as of this month we are looking at around £600,000 in lost revenue so there is still a long road back to pre-covid expectations.
"Looking forward to the summer and beyond, we’ll be adding to our food menu and will be offering something a bit different and live music will be returning as soon as we’re allowed. Let’s just hope for a great summer like last year."